Education Expansion

Linda Sillitoe
History of Salt Lake County

This generation was not only numerous but infused with the ambition of parents who had survived the Great Depression and World War II. Born into a quite different world, many children of the 1950s and 1960s considered post-high school education their due rather than an entitlement of privilege. From the Utah Technical College to the University of Utah Medical School, educational programs that had long struggled for economic survival now soared on an influx of tuition, as well as federal and state dollars newly committed to education.

Although Utah spent a greater proportion of tax dollars for education than most states, the number of students made the per capita ratio nearly the lowest in the nation. The stresses became vividly apparent in May 1964 when public school teachers declared a two-day “recess” to protest crowded classrooms and low salaries. The strike sparked a boycott against Utah by the National Education Association, and several local strikes followed.

Nor were numbers the only challenge. As the concept of equality spread into many sectors of society, educators defined a mission to fill the needs of children with physical and mental disabilities. In 1969 the legislature removed handicapped children from the purview of the Department of Welfare and required the education system to adjust its services to the children’s capabilities. Diagnostic services were assigned to the Division of Health.

The Granite School District, for instance, quickly assumed operation of the Granite Training Center, then set about building the Hartvigsen School for multiply challenged children. Valley-wide, educable children were “mainstreamed” within regular public school buildings. Some self-contained classrooms continued while “resource rooms” focused the one-to-one teaching of specific skills and concepts.

Technical education came into its own during this era, as well, boosted by the emphasis on military industry within the valley. In 1948 the Salt Lake Area Vocational School responded to a serious shortage of trained industrial and crafts workers. After some debate over location, the school rented the Troy Laundry building at about Fourth South and Sixth East streets. Remodeling and classes began almost simultaneously as more than one thousand students poured into day or night programs. The school struggled during its first years; the roof leaked and the boilers provided too much or too little heat. In addition, Governor Lee fought a running battle over state funding.

Enrollment continued to rise at the renamed Salt Lake Trade Technical Institute, and talk of a junior college spread. The University of Utah lobbied against the idea, which was postponed. In 1960 the Utah Technical College planned a move to Redwood Road at about 4500 South. The new campus would provide an initial six buildings at a cost of $3.2 million and house business, nursing, architectural, printing, metal, electronic, and auto mechanic programs. Construction began early in the decade, and classes were first offered on the new campus in 1967.

In 1973 Governor Calvin Rampton presided over a triumphant dedication of the technology building. Following an embarrassing moment when an electric “Technology Moves On” sign failed to light, college president Jay L. Nelson, who had overseen the challenges of growth and relocation, announced that the building would be named for Rampton, a strong supporter of technical education and education in general.

Westminster College in Sugarhouse also expanded during this period. The college had gained accreditation as a four-year institution in 1949; it benefited from the GI Bill as its student body rose to over three hundred. In 1955 a summer school was added, joined by a science curriculum two years later, and by a registered nurses’ program in 1966. Masters’ degrees in business and education were offered by 1982.

These were exciting decades, also, at the University of Utah, where enrollment soared. The student body surpassed 10,000 in 1958 and 20,000 a decade later. Meanwhile the legislature passed the first state-bonding bill for campus construction, which was promptly vetoed by Governor George D. Clyde. The public was having none of that, however, and a special session of the legislature passed the bill again, fueling the university’s thirty-year plan for growth.

Research gained an increasing emphasis within the medical school. In the early 1950s, cancer research absorbed many faculty members, and the university received more American Cancer Society research grants than any other facility its size. Also, the medical school became one in four nationally to join battle with an epidemic of infantile paralysis, or polio, which struck more than five thousand Americans each year, killing some and crippling others. Once Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis began a mass immunization program.

First, second, and third graders in selected schools throughout the county were dubbed “polio pioneers,” as they lined up to receive a series of three injections. Half received the new vaccine, and half a placebo. When no negative reactions were reported, the children receiving the placebo went back for the real thing, and immunization clinics mushroomed in civic clubs, businesses, and LDS wards. Later Dr. Albert B. Sabin developed an oral vaccine.

Even during the 1950s and increasingly by 1960, the university struggled to house the medical research programs, a rising number of medical students, and hospital patients. The Salt Lake County General Hospital had served patients for more than eighty years. Its services included research laboratories and an emergency room, as well as wards for general patient care. With time, however, the hospital buildings had become dilapidated, in addition to being inconveniently located for university doctors. A plan to erect a new hospital on the university campus gained state support, and a fund drive tapped federal grants and private donations, including $25,000 from the LDS church and $15,000 from the Utah Division of Kennecott Copper.

Some resisted the idea of moving the hospital near the university campus because at Twenty-First South and State streets, it offered a central location to many valley residents; however, Max McBeth, hospital administrator, said most people entering the emergency room actually came for patient care and the majority of them lived north of 4200 South Street. Well-known retailer Maurice Warshaw, who headed the hospital’s Citizens Advisory Board, released a statement saying that the old buildings at Twenty-First South were “no longer suitable for hospital use.”

And so change came. In 1965 an E-shaped University of Utah Medical Center welcomed ninety-three patients driven by ambulance from the Salt Lake County Hospital. The 500,000 square foot structure provided wings for two hundred beds, clinical departments, and the medical school. Almost as fast as the new facility opened, however, it was outgrown. The hospital soon resembled an obstacle course due to constant remodeling. Meanwhile, over the years, other buildings were added including colleges of nursing and pharmacy, and a medical library.

Throughout, research steadily gained clinical use. Kidney transplants became increasingly common as new tests allowed greater precision in the selection of compatible donors. In 1967 Dr. Willem J. Kolff was recruited to head the Division of Artificial Organs. Kolff’s research team would receive worldwide notice for various prostheses, even as it worked toward the creation of an artificial heart. In 1968 the Newborn Intensive Care Center opened in a single room with a pediatrician and four or five newborns. During its first year, the center treated two hundred infants.